Sunday, January 10. Two Stones Pub. 3 p.m:
After three quarters of futility, things went from bad to worse for the Seattle Seahawks. Quarterback Russell Wilson wasn’t ready for the snap and the ball sailed out of his hands, back to the 50-yard line.
The startled QB scurried back to retrieve the ball, Vikings defenders bearing down on him. Wilson ducked a pass rusher and looked downfield. On the broken play, rookie receiver Tyler Lockett had gotten free in the middle of the field. Wilson lobbed a pass right to him, and Lockett turned a potential disaster into a 35-yard gain, turning the game around.
The bar erupted in excitement.
It was a great moment. And I shared it with my best friend and many strangers at the bar. I shared it with my dad on the phone later. And with the guys at work the next day. I shared it with America.
The NFL is America’s game. In an era when people have 100 channels and don’t watch live TV anymore, it is the only thing that we watch when 50 million people are watching at the same time. It brings the country together like nothing else.
Taking football away from us is literally the most un-American thing I can imagine. To me, catching a bald eagle with an American flag and then burning them both while reading “Das Kapital” is nominally more patriotic than condemning the NFL.
I suppose that’s why I loathe the movie “Concussion.”
In 2002, forensic pathologist Bennett Umalu (Will Smith) discovered that 40- and 50-something NFL veterans were dying in unsettling ways. He dissected their brains and learned that their minds had been destroyed. He determined that the damage was the direct result of their brains having been smashed against their skulls thousands of times on the football field. He had discovered a new disease and he named it: Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE).
Dr. Umalu was right on the science. But he was wrong about how we’d all react to the news. As a Nigerian immigrant, he didn’t follow the NFL and he couldn’t comprehend how much it means to us.
Now if I immigrated to Nigeria and discovered that their favorite local sport was unhealthy, I’d tell people about it. If the Nigerians who were kind enough to let me into their country told me the sport was more important than their lives, I’d respect the local customs and let it go.
Dr. Umalu didn’t let it go. To me, Will Smith’s Dr. Umalu is a self-righteous trouble-maker at best. And an unforgivably ungrateful guest to our country at worst.
I am not diminishing the horrible effects of CTE. But it is worth remembering that most full time jobs for uneducated young men are pretty rough.
What does Dr. Umalu think that NFL players would do if there was no football? Does he think that they’d all get jobs as pillow testers and bunny rabbit breeders and clowns that specialize in balloon animals?
More likely, these men would get back-breaking jobs in warehouses at places like Walmart, Target, or Amazon – barely earning a living as their bodies slowly get destroyed.
I use two silly-looking cushions on my chair at work because I have chronic neck pain from doing the same desk job for 15 years. If I make it another 15 years, I won’t earn as much money as Mark Sanchez made this season as backup quarterback for the Eagles. And I’m better at my job than Sanchez.
In the end, all Dr. Umalu did was make trouble for his hospital, his family, and the country that graciously took him in.
Though it is obviously violent and dangerous, the NFL is here to stay. It’s America’s game. And I really love it.